Headaches, jaw aches and disorders of the jaw joint

The jaw joint is also known as the “temporomandibular joint” or “TMJ”. You can feel where your TMJ sits by placing your fingers just in front of your ears and opening and closing your mouth. The TMJ controls these movements: opening, closing and moving your jaw side to side or forwards and backwards. We wouldn’t be able to talk, chew or yawn without our TMJ. When the jaw joint develops problems, you may start to hear “crunching” sounds when you eat or experience headaches or jaw aches. Read on to find out what causes this and how it can be managed. If you need help with a jaw problem, give Riverstone Family Dental a call on 8678 3538.

What is a TMJ disorder?

A TMJ disorder causes jaw pain and limits how well you can use your jaw. One or both sides of your mouth may be affected. It is most common in adults, with the young and elderly making up only a small percentage of sufferers. TMJ disorders present with discreet symptoms which are usually mild, self-limiting and do not require treatment.

Factors that may cause TMJ disorders

It is often difficult to pin-point one direct cause of a TMJ disorder. There are many factors that may cause TMJ disorders, such as:

  • Missing teeth which affect the bite and chewing patterns
  • Grinding or clenching of teeth usually due to stress
  • Emotional or physical stress causing a build-up of tension in the jaw muscles
  • Injuries to the face which can cause a TMJ fracture or dislocation
  • Degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Newly placed dental fillings, crowns or bridges which have altered the bite


What are the symptoms of TMJ disorders?

TMJ disorders are uncomfortable and painful. Pain intensity can vary from intense to dull and duration may be intermittent or constant. These are the common symptoms of TMJ disorder sufferers:

  • Limited movement of the jaw, including difficulty opening the mouth
  • A stuck or “locked” jaw
  • Clicking or crunching noises from the jaw joint
  • Pain when chewing, yawning or opening the jaw
  • Pain around the ears and cheeks, this may result in ringing in the ears or feel like loss of hearing
  • Headaches, migraines and nausea
  • Face, neck, back and shoulder pain with or without muscle spasms
  • Toothaches
  • Clenching and grinding of teeth


Treatment of TMJ disorders

A conservative approach is best when treating TMJ disorders. Since TMJ disorders are often temporary, simple and reversible methods are favoured to help reduce pain and discomfort. Complete resolution can take time, especially if the TMJ disorder has developed over many years. As a dentist, I know and value the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to treating TMJ disorders. I work with GPs, physiotherapists and prosthodontists to help manage your TMJ issues. When managing TMJ disorders, my objectives are to relieve your pain, restore your jaw function, minimise jaw noises during normal function and allow you to carry out your day to day activities without disturbances. Here are some of the common TMJ disorder treatments:

Occlusal splint

An occlusal splint (also known as a nightguard) can help to take pressure off the jaw joints and teeth. Worn at night, they prevent wearing down of the teeth enamel custom-made to fit your mouth. They take some getting used to but once you wear them often, you will feel a big difference without them.

Soft diet

By temporarily minimising chewing, you allow the jaw time to rest. When you chew, it is important to train yourself to chew evenly on both sides of the mouth and using your back teeth. This allows an even distribution of chewing forces across your teeth.


Avoid yawning widely or biting into large objects like apples. If you have any habits which involve moving your jaw in different directions, then try to stop this.


Exercise, massage, gentle movement and muscle stretching can be effective in reducing pain and stiffness, and increasing strength and mobility.

Warm packs

Warm packs can be used to help relax tense jaw muscles just like muscles of any other part of the body.


Relaxing and decreasing stress can help reduce grinding and clenching your teeth – especially at night. Some ideas include yoga, meditation and reading.


Short-term medication can help to relieve symptoms. You may be prescribed painkillers, anti-inflammatories or a muscle relaxant. Take your medication as directed by your dentist or GP.


This is a last resort! We try our best to manage jaw problems conservatively, however, when there is no relief you may need to see an oral and maxillofacial surgeon for surgery.

I hope you have found this blog helpful. If you need us to assess your jaw ache, headaches or other jaw problems, please give us a call at Riverstone Family Dental on 8678 3538.

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